In a tweet that has gone viral, a far-right Dutch politician known for his anti-Islam stance has claimed there is a “market” in Ethiopia where Muslim women are being sold, with a video to back it up. In the images, a crowd can be seen surrounding people kneeling on the ground and covered in white cloth. However, the video has been taken out of context: it actually shows young Senegalese boys taking part in an initiation rite, and has nothing to do with slavery.
If you only have a minute
- A video, showing dozens of people on the ground wrapped in white cloth, purports to show “Muslim women” being sold at a market in Ethiopia.
- Our research indicates that the video actually shows young Serer boys taking part in a traditional rite of passage to adulthood in Djilass, Senegal.
- We compared the scene with videos of the ritual in December 2022, finding visual clues that matched up.
- Although slavery is banned in Ethiopia, cases of enslaved women have been documented in the Tigray region by Amnesty International.
The fact-check, in detail
On August 27, Geert Wilders, Dutch politician and founder of the far-right Party for Freedom, shared a video showing dozens of people kneeling on the ground, their bodies entirely covered by white cloth. “Islamic women market Ethiopia,” he comments.
He shared the video from another X account (formerly Twitter) with a caption in Swedish explaining, “These women have been captured by Islamic extremists, and are either turned into concubines or sold to men for money.”
The video has also been shared on Instagram in Arabic and on TikTok in English.
A video of a male rite of passage
To trace the origin of the video, the FRANCE 24 Observers team searched for images showing events with a similar configuration, that is, those where people can be seen covered in white cloth, kneeling on the ground.
Videos showing a traditional rite of passage appear to match the viral images. This rite, called “Ndut”, is an initiation rite practised by the Serer, an ethnic group present mainly in Senegal, but also in Gambia and Mauritania. In the final ceremony, young boys, covered in white cloth, kneel on the ground, surrounded by members of their community.
We spoke to two people in a Facebook group dedicated to the Serer community. They both confirmed that the language being used in the video is Serer, spoken mainly in Senegal and Gambia. The audio, however, is not clear enough to distinguish what is being said.
We also reached out to the father of a boy who took part in the rite. He said the video was taken on December 26, 2022 in Djilass, a village in western Senegal. The videos show the young boys follow the traditional rite of passage in a village square before returning to their families.
A search for images of this ceremony on YouTube using the keywords “Djilass” and “Ndut” reveals two videos published by Ndindy Fall TV and one by Simal TV, all dated December 2022. Both YouTube channels publish videos about the Serer community.
Ndut initiation rite, December 2022.
Iyane Demba Tine, a journalist with iRadio Sénégal and an expert on Serer culture, told us that these images do indeed show the initiation rite. He explained that the white cloth covering the young initiates is a traditional community loincloth.
The Ndut is an initiation rite designed to symbolise the transition from childhood to adulthood among the Serer people. The practice includes circumcision for young boys, while young girls are traditionally given a black tattoo on their gums.
The video has nothing to do with Muslim women being sold in Ethiopia.
Documented cases of sex slavery in Tigray, Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, slavery has been banned since the 1940s.
But in August 2021, hundreds of cases of women and girls tortured and reduced to sexual slavery as part of the armed conflict in Tigray, a region in the north of the country, were documented by the NGO, Amnesty International.
According to Amnesty International, the rapes were committed by the Ethiopian federal army, allied Eritrean forces and Amhara militias.
However, we have found no evidence or images attesting to the existence of slave markets in Ethiopia.